BRICKMAKING IN NEW ZEALAND
From Simon Best (1995) in Felgate, M. (ed). 1995. His Majesties
The first bricks in the new colony were of necessity imported.
Australian brickworks had been operating since 1788 (Gemmell
1986:20), and the
first recorded shipment across the Tasman was in 1806, part of
a small prefab house (Eaves 1990:6).
The first home made bricks appear to be the 8,000 fired at
the Kerikeri Mission in 1819, by a Maori who had learned the
trade in Sydney (Lee 1983:92). By early 1834 50,000 had been
made at the nearby Waimate Mission (Lee 1983:152), and it is
probable that by this time small quantities of bricks were
being made for specific use at various locations throughout
By the late 1830s a brick kiln was operating in the hills
behind Russell, producing low quality bricks with a rectangular
frog mark. Examples of these have been found in the 1840/41
pise at Pompallier, and in the remnants of a chimney excavated
at the Hung house site on the Russell beach front (Best 1995:18,19).
The first recorded attempt to make bricks in Auckland was
in 1840, probably in the last 3 months of the year, on the
corner of Queen and Victoria Streets (George n.d.407). These
were soldiers from the 80th regiment, under Major Bunbury,
and the bricks were probably destined for chimneys at Fort
Britomart. At that stage of the settlement this spot was accessible
only by a track through the scrub from the main part of town,
which then clustered around the beach head at the junctions
of Queen, Fort and Shortland Streets.
It is almost certain however that other small scale attempts
were being made at this time in Auckland. Structures such as
wells and chimneys would have needed from the start, and the
newspapers of 1841 contain many advertisements for bricks,
of which the following is a typical example
Henry Cretnay begs to inform the Public that he will be enabled,
in about a fortnight from this date, to supply them with GOOD
BRICKS at a reasonable price, and delivered to any part of
Fort Street, September 1 1841 (NZHAG 1841b).
The 2 weeks delay is common to all such notices,
and while it could refer to an expected shipment across the
is more likely to be the time allowed to build, fire and dismantle
a clamp kiln. One advertisement, on 2 October 1841, makes it
clear that local production is involved:
The Advertiser to find clay and firewood only. Hard, well-burnt
brick counted out from the kiln, will be paid for at the
rate of Two Pounds per thousand. Apply to
Mr Peter Williams
at his New Store (NZHAG 1841c).
This notice also suggests that the kiln involved is a clamp,
since the brickmakers have no say on where the operation will
be carried out, and are unlikely to have built a permanent
kiln for the contract.
For the first few years most if not
all of the bricks made in the Auckland area were probably
clamp-fired, with journeymen
brickmakers working for entrepreneurs such as the above, Brown
and Campbell (NZHAG 1841d), and Israel Joseph (NZHAG 1841a).
The locations of these may well have initially been restricted
to on or close to the shore; in 1843 Matthew Laurie (who later
moved to Karangahape Road and then to the Whau) was announcing
his entry into the market, and promising to "...land Superior
Bricks in any Bay..." (DSC 1843).
Squatting licenses were granted for short term activities
around Auckland, at such places as Mahurangi, the slopes of
Mt Eden, and Freeman's Bay and Soldier's Bay on the Waitemata
frontage. Among the professions listed in the July 1844 return
are 2 brickmakers at Soldiers Bay (1 A1:1844/1635, National
These first attempts would have used
clamp kilns, located wherever there was a suitable exposure
of clay. In this kiln
type the bricks to be fired form the kiln itself. Clay preparation
probably involved the use of a primitive horse operated pugmill;
a barrel shaped container with a central vertical shaft and
radial knives which functioned like a large mincer. Prior to
the invention or use of this machine in Europe and Britain
the clay was prepared by treading, either by human or animal,
and as late as 1860 in Britain at some small country industries "...the
neading and tempering of the clay is still performed by the
naked feet of the labourers...(Tomlinson 1860:25).
No reference to brick making practices in Auckland and Northland
before about the mid 1840s has been found, and it is possible
that some of the very early attempts to produce bricks here
used this process; certainly it is recorded that as late as
1862 R.O. Clarke pugged his first field tile clay using a horse
and bull to tread the clay in a shallow pit (Scott 1979:98/9).
The prepared brick clay would have been hand thrown into a
mould, first either wetted or dusted with sand. If the mould
had a raised design on the base then the typical frogged brick
would have been produced, featuring mainly a slot of varying
dimensions but also including diamonds, hearts, Ts etc. It
is possible however that the very early bricks in Auckland,
produced by itinerant brickworkers, were in fact plain; Gemmell
suggests that frogs did not become common on Australian bricks
until the 1850s (Gemmel 1986:53, but see reference above to
1830s Russell bricks).
By 1843 permanent kilns may have made
their appearance. Henry Falwasser, advertising bricks for
sale on 23 March of that
year, and congratulating "...the public of Auckland on
the decline of the vile practice of building Town Houses with
wood," mentions his brick-walk and kiln, suggesting a
permanent structure (AT 1843).
The first mention of a what is clearly
a permanent kiln is that of Alexander Allerdice, who in 1847
was advertising "newly
burned bricks" from his kiln in Freeman's Bay, and who
was "...confident that the quality of the present kiln
will ensure a constant and steady demand" (NZ 1847b).
Brickmaking in the central area eventually
came into conflict with its inhabitants. One 1847 kiln, John
Brick and Tile Works, operated somewhere between Federal street
and the intersection of Swanson and Albert Streets, only a
couple of blocks from the His Majesty's site. A letter to the
editor of the New Zealander complained of it burning day and
night, "...emitting flames and sparks of fire. " (NZ
1847a). It is not known whether this was a clamp or Scotch
kiln; Eaves states that it had a chimney (1990:38) however
there is no reference to this.
By the late 1840s/early 1850s brickmaking activities in the
settlement were concentrated mainly in the next watershed west
and along the main southern ridge: Freeman's Bay, Ponsonby
and Karangahape Road. In 1855/6 the first brickworks on the
Whau opened, that of Dr Pollen, and in the 1860s a number of
other yards started in the same area. In c. 1862 R.O. Clarke
started the first brickworks in the Hobsonville area.
Simple hand operated presses or pugmills
would have been the first improvement, and an 1845 auction
notice for Brown and
Campbell, featuring timber and ironmongery, lists "2 brick
machines" (DSC 1845). The next development was probably
the wire cut process, where a bar of clay was extruded from
the pugmill through a die and cut into brick sizes by a wire
frame. While this could be achieved by a simple modification
to a primitive barrel pugmill, the advent of steam power in
the brickworks resulted in very large and sophisticated pieces
of machinery, both for the preparation of the clay and in the
wire cutting process. The final major innovation was the steam
driven brick press, producing a more regular and often denser
In the mid 1860s, at 2 of the largest central area brickworks,
new technology was operating alongside old. At George Boyd's
works in Newton, machinery was both horse driven and hand powered,
and the bricks produced were a mix of hand moulded, wire cut
and pressed; Boyd's machine producing 350 bricks per hour (AWN
It is also possible that Boyd was firing
different types of kilns at that time, as a kiln of hand
made bricks was seen
by the reporter, and the comment made that "Out of a large
kiln of hand-made, only about one half are sound and useful'
(AWN 1865b). This is more likely to be a result of the unevenness
of a clamp firing rather than any fault of the forming process.
At that time John Leckie had just established
the Caledonian Brickworks at Cox's Creek, Great North Road,
and all stages
of the process were steam powered. The brickmaking machine
was a William Ralston's Patent, turning out 2,500 pressed bricks
per hour, and the whole set up was reckoned to "...astonish
the natives" (AWN 1865a).
As will be clear from the above, no simple step-by-step progression
from basic to complex methods of brick production occurred
in early Auckland. While the first attempts involved simple
(probably treading) clay preparation and clamp kilns, with
by the end of the century steam powered machinery and very
large and permanent kilns, at any one time within this period
different methods of producing the cities building blocks
would have co-existed.